Stephanie Munro travels by sailboat to the edge of the world, with friends she thought she knew. But when things go wrong, they go very, very wrong…
The Raven’s Head Dagger and the Custom of the Seas
Part 4 of 5
by Regan Wolfrom
One of the nine stories from Catholic Guilt and the Joy of Hating Men. One I keep thinking about, almost a year after I wrote it.
TUESDAY – Eight Days Adrift
I TOOK Breccan’s dagger away from her and hid it in storage. I spent all night awake beside her, waiting for her to wake up but relieved that she was still sleeping.
Darrel and Jon had taken turns on the handheld, up in the cockpit. Each one of them would join me when they weren’t on shift, but none of us had much to say.
It was hard to talk as it was.
I did ask both of them if they’d known about the dagger, and only Jon admitted that he did, that he’d been with her when she bought it from a guy we’d met at Sandspit.
“I don’t think that’s a cheap copy,” I told him. “That looks authentic.”
“It wasn’t cheap,” Jon said.
“That’s not okay. That dagger isn’t something that’s supposed to be taken off the islands. That’s exactly what Watchmen like Paul are there to prevent.”
“Are you really worried about a stupid knife when we’re a day away from passing out from thirst?”
“It’s a good distraction.”
“If I’m pissed off at Breccan I won’t be so angry at myself for letting this happen.”
I knew I was being silly, that it wasn’t really my fault. I guess I was fishing for some kind of reassurance.
“You won’t let it happen again,” Jon said. “That’ll have to be good enough.”
He walked over to the table and sat down, thumbing through the charts.
“Ouch,” I said.
“I’m not your therapist, Steph. So unless you’re about to give me a blow job… just leave me alone. I’m tired of your shit.”
“I… just… don’t… care. Get it?”
He stood up from the table and faced me. He undid his pants and pulled them down. He still had his boxer shorts; I prayed he’d keep them on.
“We’re going to die,” he said. “I really don’t care what you think of me.”
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think?”
“Don’t you dare touch me.”
“I don’t care who I touch. Well, not Darrel.”
He started towards me.
I moved away.
He climbed onto Breccan’s bunk.
My first thought was to call for Darrel. But I didn’t. As much as they’d fought, Darrel and Jon were friends. And Breccan and I were just the two girls who’d came along for the trip and shot them both down.
I didn’t think I could trust him to help me.
I grabbed at Jon, trying to pull him off of her. He slapped me hard against my temple and I fell back against the cabin wall.
I pulled at him again.
He struck me harder, right across my face.
I could feel my nose bleeding.
I ran to galley and pulled out the cast iron pan.
I swung it at his head.
He groaned and turned to look at me.
He climbed off the bunk.
I held the pan up beside my head.
“I’ll hit you again,” I said.
He stumbled toward me, waving his arms like an angry bear. “You crazy bitch! You could have killed me.”
He grabbed my arm and the pan, trying to wrestle the weapon away from me.
I sent my knee up at his groin.
He dropped to the floor of the cabin.
I was tempted to hit him with the pan again.
“What the hell?” I heard Darrel say. “What the fuck did you just do, Steph?”
I kept a hold on the pan as I backed away from Jon. “He attacked her,” I said. “He was going to rape her.”
Darrel shook his head. “I can’t believe that.”
Jon slowly stood up. “She’s full of shit,” he said.
Darrel reached for the pan.
I let him take it. I didn’t know what else to do.
“What did you do, Jon?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” Jon said.
“Well you must have done something here. Steph’s nose is bleeding and I can almost see bits of that tiny lizard brain of yours.”
“She just lost it on me.”
“Come on. Just tell me the truth, man.”
“She blames herself… you know, for Breccan trying to off herself and everything. Steph’s losing her mind. She just flipped out on me.”
“So you were sitting around with no pants on and Steph just decided to try and kill you?”
“I don’t know why… she just went at me.”
“You know that isn’t true,” I said to Darrel. “You know I wouldn’t just attack someone with a cast iron pan.”
“I know,” Darrel said. “And now we have another problem to deal with.”
“Whatever man,” Jon said. “You want to take this bitch’s word over mine, that’s fine. Just both of you stay clear of me, alright?”
“Alright,” Darrel said.
Jon put on his pants and his raincoat and climbed back up to the cockpit.
I stumbled over to my bunk and collapsed. I didn’t bother trying to clean up my face, and to Darrel’s credit, he didn’t try to lick the blood out of my nostrils.
He sat down beside Breccan, still gripping the bloody pan.
“Things are falling apart,” he said.
“They’re long past falling apart,” I replied.
He tried to hide it, but I could tell he was crying.
WEDNESDAY – Nine Days Adrift
NO RAIN again. There’s no bright side left.
We left one of the rainiest places on earth and now it feels like we’re in a desert. It’s warmer today, so I dragged a finally-awake Breccan up for some fresh air. She was dressed in a long-sleeve shirt, which covered up her bandages nicely; I didn’t want her to think about the scars she’d be left with.
As soon as Jon saw us he looked down at his feet. I couldn’t tell if it was regret or disgust.
“You should go down to the salon,” Darrel told him.
“It’s okay,” I said. “We can all sit up here today… make the best of it.” It felt unnecessary to hate a dying man when you’re on your own deathbed.
Darrel shook his head. “I don’t think so. Jon and I will go down to the salon. You girls enjoy the weather.”
“Yeah… alright,” Jon said.
He and Darrel went down into the cabin while Breccan and I sat in the cockpit.
“I don’t know why you stopped me,” Breccan said. “I made my choice.”
“It wasn’t a good choice,” I said.
“You took it away from me. That wasn’t up to you.”
I took her hand. “There’s still hope, Breccan. Until the last minute there’s hope. You just need to hold on.”
She sighed. “I don’t want to hold on. I’m tired.”
“I don’t want to lose you,” I said. “Stick through this with me, okay?”
“I don’t think I can.”
“I’m not going to accept that.”
She turned away and stared out at the sea.
I heard Edgar caw to us. I assume it was to us, just as I assumed the raven was Edgar, because we were all there was out there to hear him.
“That crazy bird,” I said. “I think he followed us from Hotspring Island.”
“That’s stupid. No bird is going to follow a sailboat for a week and a half to the middle of nowhere.”
“I don’t know what else could be happening,” I said. “There’s no land in sight.”
“Then I guess Edgar is just as stupid as we are,” Breccan said. I think she had the slightest smile on her face, and it made me feel a little bit better.
“Are you cold?” I asked her.
“Yeah… it’s not as nice out here as it first seemed.”
We helped each other down the stairs to the salon, both of us leaning on the other; I wasn’t as healthy as I wanted to pretend I was, and Breccan wasn’t the total weakling she wanted to be.
We reached the cabin to find Darrel sitting at the table, flipping through the same charts I’d seen Jon playing with before.
I didn’t see Jon anywhere, though; I’d never thought of him as the type to hide under a blanket.
“Where’s Jon?” Breccan asked.
“He’s taking a nap,” Darrel said, pressing his index finger to his nose. “Don’t wake him.”
“That’s not really a big concern for me,” I said.
“I found something,” Darrel said. “You girls are going to want to kiss me.”
He reached down by his feet and I started to panic. He pulled out a box of crackers.
“You’re shitting me,” I said, breathing out heavily.
“They fell behind the drawer. They’re stale, crushed, and half gone, but they’re food.”
“We need to count them out and ration them,” I said.
Darrel grinned. “Live a little, Steph.”
Breccan didn’t pause. She rushed over to the table and started eating.
Darrel stood up and gave her room, like he was worried she’d chew his arm off.
He walked over to me like he was expecting a hug.
“She’s going to eat all of it,” I said.
“That’s fine,” he said.
He reached behind me, grabbing a roll of duct tape off the counter; I hadn’t noticed it there.
He grabbed my neck and pushed me down.
I lost my balance and fell to my knees. I tried to get up and away, but he already had his boot against my left ankle, twisting it in and against the floor.
“Breccan,” I called out. “Help me out here.”
She didn’t answer.
He forced my hands behind my back.
Still nothing. I could see her watching, her mouth stuffed full with stale crackers.
She kept chewing.
He had my wrists bound quickly, and he bound my ankles the same way. The pain in my ankle was intense, but felt more like a sprain than a break.
He then taped my wrists and ankles together, making me feel like a pig at a luau. Luckily we were fresh out of apples for my mouth, and Breccan was doing her best to eliminate the crackers.
“Are you going to do anything to help me, Breccan?” I asked.
“I can’t help you,” she said. “There’s no point.”
“No point? What is wrong with you?”
“Maybe she knows that I’m trying to save you,” Darrel said.
“Save me? From what? Blood circulation?”
“From yourself.” He walked over to the table. “All done the crackers?”
“Go lay down in your bunk,” he said.
She didn’t say anything else; she just stood up from the dinette and walked over to her bunk.
“There’s still blood on it,” she said.
“That doesn’t matter.”
She climbed into bed.
Darrel began to wrap the duct tape around her body, strapping her to the bunk.
“Please don’t,” she said.
“I have to,” he said, like a parent explaining bedtime to a toddler.
I watched him finish taping her, unsure of the point. There was no reason to restrain us; all we’d been doing was waiting to die.
“Don’t worry,” he said to me. “It’ll be okay.”
“There’s no way you can expect me to trust you,” I said.
“I don’t need you to trust me.”
He walked over to a Jon-sized lump on another bunk. He peeled back the blanket.
Jon was taped up, too, but it didn’t look like he was conscious; I wasn’t even sure he was still alive. His hair, face and neck were covered in blood. His mouth was stuffed with a rag that was held in with tape.
“Jon’s probably got six or seven litres of blood,” Darrel said. “You and I can sustain ourselves for maybe a week on that.”
“Breccan’s only got three or four litres.”
I looked over to her. She didn’t say a word.
“You need to do it, Steph,” he said. “You won’t survive otherwise.”
“I’m not going to be an accomplice to murder.”
“It’s not murder. It’s the custom of the sea.”
“I found out my best friend is a piece of shit wannabe rapist. As if there’s any reason for him to outlive the rest of us. And your roommate here decided to eat all our rations, and then when I came up with one last box of stale crackers, she ate every last one without thinking for one second of sharing it. So I taped her down on her bunk. Come on, Steph… she didn’t do a single thing to stop me. She knows she deserves to die.”
“Breccan,” I said. “Say something, dammit. At least tell him you don’t want him to drain your blood out like you’re a fucking side of beef.”
“I don’t care anymore,” she said.
“I’ll keep trying the handheld,” Darrel said. “If we can raise someone in time we can all make it out of here in one piece.” He started to chuckle. “Well maybe not all in one piece.”
He walked back over to me.
I turned away.
“Where’s that raven-head dagger?” he asked me.
“What are you going to do?”
“Just tell me where it is. Your ankle hasn’t broken yet, has it?”
“It’s in the storage bin,” I said. “At the bottom.”
He walked over and dug through the storage compartment. Soon he had the knife in his hand and he was making his way back over to Jon.
“What are you going to do to him?” I asked.
“I’m hungry, Steph… aren’t you?”
“Don’t do it, Darrel. There’s no way you can justify it.”
He took the blade and sliced into Jon’s thigh.
Jon’s eyes shot open and he began to scream. It was muffled by the rag but was still the loudest scream I’d ever heard. He kicked against the tape, and Darrel paused a moment to grab the cast iron pan and slam it again Jon’s forehead.
“Anesthesia,” Darrel said.
He carved out a chunk of flesh and muscle.
“At least we still have enough fuel to fry it,” he said.
He took it to the kitchen along with the bloodied fry pan and started to cook his meal.
I was horrified.
I was pretty close to vomiting.
But then the smell of the frying meat started filling the cabin, and I couldn’t help but let it waft into my nostrils. It wasn’t Jon; it was meat. And I was hungry.
And I knew that Darrel wasn’t planning on giving me a choice.
When it was ready I didn’t fight him. I took the meat and the blood.
For the first time in a week, I didn’t feel hungry.
“You can’t keep me taped up like this,” I said.
“I can trust you?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” I was being honest.
He walked over with the raven-headed dagger.
I started to cry.
He cut the tape from my wrists and ankles.
“I’m going to try trusting you,” he said. “During the day. You understand that I’ll have to restrain you at night.”
“Everything will be okay, Stephanie.” He kissed me on the forehead.
I couldn’t stop crying.
>> onward to Part 5